Balanced, hoppy, juicy, floral, sour and wet-hopped. The craft beer category has enough buzzwords to confuse even the biggest enthusiast. But attaching catchy words to beer labels can be a double-edged sword. That’s because brewing companies need to know which ones offer clarity and which ones add confusion to an already crowded category and craft lexicon. After all, knowing which buzzwords resonate will help craft brewers and retailers align in ways that draw consumers in rather than cause them to scratch their heads.
In simplistic terms, craft beer consumers can describe why they choose craft beer. Unique flavors (48%), high-quality ingredients (48%) and not mass-produced (33%) are factors that characterize the “craft” in craft beer, according to a recent Nielsen CGA on-premise survey. And retailers and brewers have provided an ever-widening variety of flavors and styles for consumers to choose from. Concurrently, the language used to market craft beer to the consumer has also multiplied.
For instance, over the past four years, the number of products labeled “barrel/wood aged” has taken off. In the off-premise realm, the number has grown from 154 products to more than 500 products. Over the same period, sales of “barrel/wood aged” have grown my more than 27% (compound annual growth rate; CAGR). Sour styles have also bloomed, with an additional 236 sour labeled products coming to market helping to boost sales by a CAGR of 61.7%. Citrus is also big, as the number of products labeled in this realm has grown resulting in sales growth of 116%, representing more than $126 million in sales.
With a wide array of buzzwords flooding the marketing of craft beer, knowing which ones consumers recognize may help retailers and brewers detect correlations between these terms and purchase influences. Despite some of the newer style and flavor trends, many of the more historic terms are fairly ingrained in the minds of most craft beer fans. For example, 70% or more are aware of conventional craft beer terms like independent, traditional, hoppy, drinkable and limited edition.
Drilling down into awareness levels, there is a significant awareness gap between different age groups of craft beer drinkers. Among legal aged U.S. regular craft beer drinkers, 21-34 year-olds are the most aware of these conventional craft beer terms, with 66% familiar with them. Comparatively, only 33% of consumers aged 65 and up are aware of them.
When it comes to buzzwords, however, nothing is more important than knowing which ones drive sales. Across the consumer spectrum, “drinkable,” “independently owned” and “traditional” are more likely to influence purchase decisions, while “sour,” “funky,” “piney” and “hazy” are less likely to influence purchases.
In a category that faces stiff competition, recognizing and building on the terms that consumers are aware of and have the greatest influence at the sales register may help grow sales. And retailers and brewers should remember that not every craft beer drinker is a connoisseur. Therefore, it’s important to educate consumers and broaden their awareness rather than add to the growing list of new buzzwords out there for them to decipher.
For additional beer insights, download Nielsen’s State of the U.S. Beer Market report.